Thursday, November 30, 2006

Allied Ronin: European Tour

November 25-27, 2006

These have been three days of teaching and touring in and around Krakow, Poland. The efforts of Pawel Olesiak and Pawel Bernas to bring the Samurai Game® to their aikido organization, Krokowskie Stowarzyszenie (, have paid off. Twenty people attended from various businesses surrounding the city, plus the main radio station serving this ancient capital of Poland. All as a result of email announcements sent out from the two Pawel’s (pronounced “pah’–vel” … which is Polish for Paul). Both 4th dan's they teach aikido and have formed a training organization for the specific purpose of changing leadership throughout Poland by use of the principles and physical techniques found in this martial art.

Sunday evening following my class a tour of Krakow was arranged which included the Wawel – ancient castle and home of one of Poland’s oldest monarchies. Then on to St’s Peter & Paul church, St Mary’s and St John’s and other point of historic interest. This city is filled with churches … attesting to the ability of a spiritual-base culture to withstand and overcome the old Soviet regime days … now frequently referred to by the locals as “the communist times.” Pawel Olesiak, now 40, told stories of what it was like for him to stand in long lines for something as simple as candy. Poland is different now. In fact, the youth I’ve encountered since then, many not old enough to know or recall “the communist times” only have their parents’ stories to understand what it was like. Prosperity and aliveness that looks to future growth is everywhere.

Monday morning was a different kind of tour. While there is much beauty to see everywhere in Krakow – enough to fill weeks of touring – I decided to view this country through a different lens. As beautiful and inspiring as the ancient capital is, the other end of the spectrum which represents the ugliness of human potentiality can be felt in another town just forty kilometers west – Oswiecim, or as the German Nazis of 1941 renamed it, Auschwitz.

I toured only Auschwitz I, as the other location (Auschwitz II – Berkenau) 3 km away, would have taken more time than schedules allowed. But the short tour of A-I was enough for me. Fortunately, a participant in a course I led November 18-19 in the San Francisco Bay Area had prepared me by suggesting I read Dr. Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, recounts what it was like from an everyday standpoint of the captive. He then goes on to expand for the reader the brand of psychotherapy he founded – logotherapy – see

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Valuable Lessons from the Organizational Behavior Teacher's Society

Each year the Organizational Behavior Teacher's Society hosts a conference for it's members, some of the most influencial OB thinkers and educators in the world. Most who attend the Organizational Behavior Teacher's Conference (OBTC) hold a Ph.D. and are excellent teachers, many of whom are called upon to offer leadership programs attended by MBA candidates from around the globe.

I joined the Society in 2002 and attended the OBTC that year to co-present the Samurai Game® for conference attendees. This past June was my third conference and Game presentation there. Unlike other academic conferences where suits and business outfits are the order of the day - at OBTC a pair of Dockers or a skirt might be considered almost formal. It's not a place for dark auditoriums filled with high brow academitians waiting to slice and dice other presentors delivering research papers. Rather, this is a four-day cornicopia of exercises and lively discussions. Presenters share their best so that the rest of us can take it back home and put it to use in our consulting practices, or in trainings and classrooms. It's truly a win-win atmosphere ... education is at its finest. It's a fun (and often funny), rejuvenating and insightful four days.

Each morning opens with an "overall session" that most participants usually attend. This year one of these sessions was conducted by Dr. Karl Weick. Who is he? One of the most respected OB'ers in the world. Of him Diane Coutu (The Harvard Business Review) said in April 2003:

What can we do to better recognize and manage the unpredictable? Few people are better qualified to answer that question than Karl E. Weick, the Rensis Likert Distinguished University Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology at the University of Michigan Business School at Ann Arbor, and professor psychology at the university. Over the span of his career, Weick has become world renowned for his insights into why people in organizations act the way they do. His book The Social Psychology of Organizing, first published in 1969, turned organizational psychology on it head by praising the advantages of chaos, demonstrating the pitfalls of planning, and celebrating the rewards of "sensemaking." These insights were expanded in a later book, Sensemaking in Organizations (1995). Most recently, Weick -along with University of Michigan colleague Kathleen M. Sutcliffe - has turned his attention to Managing the Unexpected (2001). [Managing the Unexpected]

On the morning of June 20th I along with 200 other OBTCer's attended Karl Weick's overall session: "Drop Your Tools." What he had to say hit me between the eyes and in the heart. Weik proposed that people often take counterproductive action when faced with the chaos of radical change. He suggested that the tools (skills, methods, beliefs,ways of communicating, etc.) we spend so much time and money on to learn, use and own, can begin to "own us". If we do not remain vigilant these tools can become deterrents to our success. Thus in the very moments when needs are high for correct action we might find ourselves hampered by our habitual adherence to and/or an identification with a tool; and for the sake of the illusion of security we often don't deal with reality. By holding on to something we've paid dearly for and have now become identified with, Weick suggested, we can hinder (at best) or destroy (at worst) what's really important in our lives. The boundary that separates the "who that we are" from the "what that we use" becomes blurred. This is dangerous.

Listening to Weick open his talk about how hanging-on can be counterproductive was not a new idea to anyone attending his session. But as he employed an analogy and laid out the research he had done to illustrate this concept he got to me and to everyone else. What he talked about was down to earth, easy to see and understand, and it was profound.

Using well documented case studies Weick talked of highly skilled men and women who fight forest fires. He spoke specifically about those who lose their lives because of their refusal to Drop Tools when surrounded by immediate life-threatening danger. Even though these individuals and teams he spoke of knew exactly what they were supposed to do when ordered to "Drop Your Tools", a very high percentage of them took the opposite course of action and consequently lost their lives. Think about it ... well trained fire fighters running as fast as they can to save themselves, hearing the lifesaving scream from their team leaders to "Drop Your Tools" ... and even passing on the order ... yet blindly continuing to hang on to chain saws, shovels, axes, heavy ropes, blades and even gas cans. Holding tightly to weight that they have been repeatedly told will cost them precious seconds and could cause their death, these people attempt to outrun hell storms of caused by unexpected wind shifts, down drafts or explosions. Weick further showed evidence that is not unheard of to find that many team leaders who issue the "Drop Your Tools" order then slow themselves down and pick up the same tools that others have jettisoned. Some of these leaders died because they lost the split second advantage they needed to effectively survive a radically changing situation. Leaders who survive often relate how surprised they are to find themselves out of harm's way and look down at their hands to find a tool that wasn't theirs. On reflection some remember having picked it up thinking "it's too valuable to leave behind." Some have admitted that they even slowed down and looked around "to find a safe place to put the tool so that it (not I) could survive the fire."

As an outsider to fighting forest fires this can sound insane. But when I think about my own life and my own changes I'm no longer an "outsider." What happens to these fire fighters happens to many people in different scenarios. It illustrates that the value of a tool, technique, belief or way of being can and sometimes does bizarrely surpass the value of an individual's life.

Weick's comments first struck a professional chord in me. I found myself pondering: "What do I rely on to perform or advance my work? Am I willing to drop some of these things in order to progress, OR have I become so identified with my tools that they own me?" As he continued to speak, thoughts of my profession faded and I began to consider the person I am and the precious relationships that I have and want. Here I took a deeper look. As I write today I am still looking.

What have I relied on (in some cases sadly) as a means of survival when it comes to relationships? What tools (opinions or certainties) have I been carrying that address my responses to other people or about relationship, men, women, children, parents, lovers. What have I been carrying through my life that I thought was needed for success but now weighs me down? Have I become blind? Did I pick up tools to serve an important need back then which now no longer exists? I'm just hanging on out of habit? Do these tools really serve me, particularly in meaningful ways, with someone new? Where have I stopped being "the me that I am" only to become a blind operator of an embodied practice that was once learned, but now mostly protects me from worn out fears and past mistakes?

In a spirit of respectful service and growth, perhaps we could all consider similar questions.

Dr. Karl Weick's comments delivered at the 2006 OBTC are not yet available online. Rather than wait until they are, I decided to find out when he has used the "Drop Your Tools" analogy elsewhere. Here for your reading and thought is "Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies", published in the Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ), June 1996. His article challenged the ASQ examine the tools it was using that needed to be dropped.

Take time to hit the link to "Drop Your Tools". Read the article ... translate it into what matters for you ... give it some attention and think about it. Something valuable is being illuminated here.

Best wishes,

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Review of "Conscious Business" by Fred Kofman

A review by Matthew Brannagan- an Allied Ronin affiliate

“Consciousness is the ability to experience reality, to be aware of our inner and outer worlds.”

Too few businesses concern themselves with the levels of consciousness present within their companies. Fred Kofman's Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values is an illuminating view of the effects a methodology grounded in values-based business practices and leadership can have on an organization, and their personnel. This well detailed book expertly weaves a principled approach to business etiquette with a developmentalist’s insight into personal growth. Key to Kofman's teaching is the concept that conscious actions and communications are a central component of a successful business, and a happy work force.

Born and raised in Argentina during a period of military dictatorship, Kofman saw at an early age the impact unconsciousness can have on the truth. He lived for many years in a place where the truth was distorted to control social order. Years later, while working as a researcher on organizational learning at MIT, he realized these same behaviors were at work in meeting rooms throughout the business world. In an effort to create some positive change in the workplace he formed his consulting business, now called Axialent, devoted to “helping leaders realize their true greatness and express it at work.” Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values is just one of his many contributions to that cause.

By weaving an elaborate tapestry of sound academic knowledge, and personally relevant stories he has created a text that should be required reading for all those wishing to achieve success in business. He illustrates beautifully the trappings that exist for a business that overlooks consciousness, while providing a fully equipped toolkit for organizations seeking to develop an approach to business that aligns with values as important to a businesses success as they are to the individuals they employ. From a social and cultural standpoint, his teachings extend far behind the framework of business relations, as he offers insights into communication, right leadership, integrity, and consciousness that are as relevant to relationships, families and communities as they are to the leading companies he represents.For businesses, however, he brings forth, with vivid detail, the intelligent and skillful means in which organizations can create an organizational culture that fosters responsibility and integrity, and values communication and accountability, while developing leaders whose strong ways of being will invite organizational success at all levels. This is where Kofman is at his finest as Conscious Business serves it’s readers with answers to questions for many of the scenarios that diminish the level of consciousness of businesses who are seeking to raise it.

Unique to this book is an approach rooted in what he calls the three dimensions of business: the task, or It; the relationship, or We; and the self, or I. Though most businesses focus almost exclusively on the task, or It, the teachings in this book implore organizations to create equanimity amongst these three dimensions. With this approach the I, We and It all contribute to who the organization is Being, what they are Doing, and what results they are Having, ultimately making an enormous impact on what the organization and its employees are Becoming.Later, Kofman outlines the ways we interact with one another at work, including:

• Communicating to understand each other.
• Negotiating differences to make decisions.
• Coordinating actions through mutual commitments.

Then he brings together the conscious and unconscious ways in which we can address those challenges. What he offers is a conscious approach to business, where responsibility and integrity can overwhelm, and overcome, unconscious means such as manipulative communication and narcissistic negotiation. By directing attention to who an organization is Being, and what they are Doing, positive gains are certain to be made in the results they are Having.

Among the many compelling stories utilized throughout the book, is the one of a manager, William, and his boss, Zack. In this all too common scenario Zack responds to difficult news from William by using the principles of unconditional responsibility, taught to him by Kofman, to manipulate and shame William. While Zack attempted to utilize a tool he had learned, he did not do so skillfully, and the result was an increased friction between the two. What is reminded in this book, however, is that business success is not the ultimate goal, in fact it is merely one of the many means that we utilize to pursue our happiness. With that in mind we must focus on what Kofman calls the “success beyond success”, or the alignment with our values and our happiness that is beyond the organizational success. This commitment to success beyond success encourages focus on essential integrity and happiness, which provides further support for a “leap in consciousness.”

In regards to consciousness, Kofman describes seven important qualities that are apparent in conscious business and individuals: unconditional responsibility, ontological humility, essential integrity, constructive negotiation, authentic communication, emotional mastery and impeccable coordination. The concepts are simple to identify, but difficult to maintain in practice, and Conscious Business provides a roadmap for organizations and individuals to not just learn what these concepts are, but how to incorporate them into one’s personal and professional practices. In so doing, readers will be able to meet the invitation offered at the end of the book to “take these skills and enter the market with helping hands.”